While many people are cleaning shovels and trowels to store them away for the winter, the savvy gardener continues to dig. Fall is ideal – better than spring, in fact – for planting perennials and deciduous trees and shrubs, giving them a head start establishing their roots in the still relatively warm ground. The annual fall plant sale Saturday at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park features host and nectar plants that attract butterflies. The sale, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., also specializes in unusual and hard-to-find perennials that are not found in big-box stores or even in many area nurseries.
The featured perennials, planted now, will return next spring. A few of the notable specimens for the butterfly gardener include:
Hop ash (Ptelea trifoliata). Also known as wafer ash or potato chip tree because of the large, flat seeds it produces in abundance, this small tree can take sun or shade. It is used as a host by the two largest butterflies in the Dallas area, the giant swallowtail and the eastern tiger swallowtail.
Texas kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana). This airy shrub can reach 6 to 10 feet. White panicles burst into bloom after a heavy rain and fill the air with an intoxicating scent; plant it near a window if possible. A range of pollinators visit the flowers, and it is a favorite of smaller butterfly species.
White mistflower (Ageratina wrightii, formerly Eupatorium wrightii). Not to be confused with fragrant mistflower, which looks very similar, white mistflower easily outperforms and is an incredible nectar source for many types of butterflies and other insects. Reaching a maximum height of about 4 feet in our area, it does well in both full sun and dappled shade and is covered in white blooms in late October and early November.
Frostweed (Verbesina virginica). This tall, native perennial wildflower is normally found in the shady understory, but it also can thrive in full sun. Ranging in size from 4 to 10 feet, it begins flowering in mid-September through early November. The white umbels are a favorite nectar source for migrating monarch butterflies. Frostweed also is showy in winter; with the first hard freeze, the water stored in the plant exudes from the base and leafless stems to form ice crystals, giving the plant its common name.
Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii ). The drought-tolerant, low-growing shrub will be covered with tubular red or orange blooms when given a little regular watering. This is a favorite nectar source for the neon-yellow cloudless sulphurs, as well as giant swallowtails, Gulf fritillaries and others. It also doubles as a host plant for the diminutive Texan crescent and is irresistible to hummingbirds.
False nettle (Boehmeria cylindrical). While not the showiest of plants, this hard-to-find native can be interspersed with more colorful plants to provide contrast. Its textured leaves provide meals for two of our medium-sized local butterflies, the red admiral and the question mark. The caterpillars do no lasting damage to the plant, which will quickly regenerate new growth.
Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani). The tall, native-prairie perennial grows from 4 to 10 feet, developing narrow leaves and stems covered in large, bright-yellow blooms. It is visited by a variety of butterflies for its nectar-producing flowers, and one butterfly, the bordered patch, will use the leaves as a meal for its caterpillars. The seeds feed various birds and other wildlife.
Lantana (Lantana camara). Few plants draw in butterflies more than this reliable workhorse. Give it a location in full sun and you’ll be rewarded with flurries of butterflies for years to come.
Snakeherb (Dyschoriste linearis). This low-growing ground cover with pale purple flowers blooms best in full sun. Snakeherb is a host plant for the striking common buckeye and the uncommon (and tiny) cyna blue.
To observe these plants in a garden setting, Randy Johnson, the garden’s director of horticulture, will lead an hourlong tour of the grounds at 10 a.m. Saturday. For a full list of sale plants, go to www.texasdiscovery gardens.org.Texas Discovery Gardens